Dress up, fess up

Two weeks ago I wandered the Ghetto, soaked by ceaseless rain and immersed in the spirit of Halloween. A sperm spoke casually to Fubar, while stormtroopers shook hands with some beatniks. Four men with navy pylon-shaped hats stood a few feet away from each other, protecting Queen’s campus as blue lights.

Halloween costumes serve as the world’s best ice breaker; just ask the hotdog being grilled by some girls on Division. Weaving through a sea of clever dress and miles of exposed skin, my friends and I stopped to speak with Karl Marx and a seemingly uncooperative friend. Holding the Communist Manifesto and sporting a lengthy beard, we guessed the famed philosopher right away. Giving in and breaking the ice, I asked his friend—dressed in a black sweater and blue jeans—what he was supposed to be.

Casually he responded, “I’m myself. Aren’t we all liars anyway?” I started thinking. Then I got scared.

This morning I told my housemate someone else drank her milk. Last night I didn’t accidentally spill cranberry juice on Snow White’s petticoat. I’m a liar, I’m a denier, I’m a midnight falsifier. I don’t think Karl Marx’s friend was speaking about the white lie pandemic that fueled my internal crisis. I think he was talking about denial. Like dressing up, denial is a form of lying, but the costume we wear is for our own peace of mind, not the entertainment of others.

While Halloween flips self-denial outward, allowing folks to be whomever they’d like for a night, it certainly isn’t the only time we do this. Anybody can wake up in the morning and decide to act as another.

I believe denial is healthy. Anna Freud’s research into denial dubbed it a defence mechanism, used to safeguard the human psyche from damaging thought. But modern society has taken this much further, using denial as a mechanism to create oneself anew in accordance with communal standards.

In the eighth grade I wore a Metallica shirt to school. By lunchtime, the whispers of “poser” from my peers had sent me running home to change into a less scandalous tee. I disavowed my enjoyment of the famed rock band and inhibited self-growth. Skimming my iTunes today, I find one Metallica song. My middle-school wardrobe change is behind me, but the conformity it taught me remains.

The lies we tell others inform our ideas of identity, and damage how we evolve. Not simply as individuals, but individuals who comprise wider society—at Queen’s, in Kingston, in Ontario.

Without sounding too apocalyptic, I wonder whether the relationship between individual conformity and cultural growth can reach a plateau. Denial is healthy when helping you move past the negative, but not when it comes at the expense of individuality.

I’m afraid to remember who I was before others told me who I could be. But, I’m trying.

Beginning with Ride the Lightning.

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